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Difference on duties blocks GCC-EU deal

Gulf Times, Qatar

Difference on duties blocks GCC-EU deal

By Anwar ElShamy/Brussels

9 June 2010

Despite 98% of the issues of the long-awaited Free Trade Agreement between the GCC and EU having been successfully negotiated, the GCC’s decision to impose customs duties on EU exports remain the only sticking point, an EU source has said.

The European Commission official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, blamed the failure of talks, going on for some two decades now, on “Gulf states”, saying that they want to have the freedom to impose duties on the EU products, a condition that the official said would never be accepted by the EU Parliament, which has to ratify any future agreement.

“By 2007, the two sides had agreed on some 98% of the agreement details. The only sticking point since has been export duties. Without exception, we have included in all the other FTA prohibiting imposition of duties on EU exports. Our member states would not accept any restrictions in such an agreement,” the official said.

“We are ready to give 99% of the GCC products duty free access to the EU market. We have been telling the GCC since 2007 that we can give them exception in terms of imposing duties on EU exports, but not 100% freedom to impose duties,” she added.

Asked about an annual GCC-EU foreign ministers meeting, scheduled next Monday in Luxembourg, the official hoped that it would give a push to the stalled talks between the two blocs, saying it would be an opportunity for the “last effort” to address the unresolved issues.

“Out of 2,000-odd pages that have been agreed on by the two sides, there were only a couple of paragraphs that are still problematic. It is an occasion to conclude the agreement. We need a political commitment from the two sides to return to the negotiating table,” she said.

“The talks next week will be only on political levels and we want to see if there is a joint will to revive the negotiations. We want to clarify misunderstandings that GCC states might have, like the dual pricing issue which are not included at all in the agreement. The only problem is agreement on export duties,” the official added.

The official dismissed notions that environment and labour issues are blocking a deal, saying that these issues were not negotiated.
However, the official added that these issues might make it difficult for the European Commission to convince the European Parliament to ratify the agreement.

On human rights, she said that the EU was only asking the countries willing to enter in FTA with the block to implement the international instruments in human rights.

She also denied that the EU included the GCC ties with Israel as a “precondition” for the conclusion of the free trade agreement.